Friday, June 22, 2012

Moar Kickstarter

This is a Hyabusa pic, not the kickstarter thing.
So some folks out there are kickstarting a satellite.

The project is actually a time-share sensor kind of thing but man it's a satellite and that's one big step for kickstarting.  Or one small step for crowd sourcing maybe.  I essentially participated in the same kind of idea when I contributed (directly and indirectly through membership) to the Planetary Society's Solar Sail projects and although the first two of those didn't make it, I don't resent the money spent and hope they keep trying.  Space exploration is expensive and risky.  It's also totally worth every cent in my opinion because the eventual pay-offs are huge and unexpected.  I don't know how these guys are getting around all the red tape of putting something in orbit - I would imagine that that costs more than the actual hardware.  I know the Planetary Society had a lot of fun dealing with U.S. national security red tape. Anyway I only hope that these guys have success with their project.  Maybe the Planetary Society should kickstart their next project - expand their crowd sourcing base as it were.

I remember the excited chatter on the Internet when Google did their Virgle April Fool's Day* spread.  I wonder what would happen if someone tried to Kickstart something really big - like an asteroid exploration drone or a Europa ballistic test.

*or was it?!


Ah you monster slug-a-thon you

Titan on the iPad!?!  Well that's a kick in the ass then.  Crap I was excited when Valley Games acquired the rights to reprint Titan and I then was a little disappointed with the reprint (it was the same problem as with the Fantasy Flight second edition of Game of Thrones, the game board colour scheme was too busy and it impeded game-play.)  Now I am excited again because they did a tablet app which is awesome, but I'm again disappointed because it's only available on the iPad and I sold mine.  It's really the only regret I have about selling the damn thing.

Still if you have an iPad check out Titan on it because it's a great game and it benefits from computer assistance.  It says 2-6 players local or AI which probably means no internet play yet - hopefully they get that in there because that would probably be the best format.  The colossus online play java version of Titan is great and really speeds up play so I imagine a tablet app would also.  I can see a day when we have giant tablets for boardgames and it makes me mist up.  Bring back my Starfleet Battles but on 50' multitouch+ camera enhanced surfaces!!!  Any way Titan is a lot of fun. And in this case with (computer assistance) the fancy colour scheme might actually work.

I still think it's a bit busy - classic Titan had such clean lines and colour coding...

Friday, June 15, 2012

Highway to the danger zone

As much as I want to run some Beacon again, I have had a bug in my ear to run something else. I'm not going to go into details on the game system yet because I am not going to tell the players what the system is until we get underway. However I will say that it's short and sweet and hopefully full of win.  I am going to post some setting material here though because it helps me cope. I have a game date set for July 6th and once it happens and I've spilled all the beans, I'll probably be posting some session notes and get into reviewing some of the game mechanics.

Anyway here's the pitch:
You are all novice pilots aboard the CSF space carrier Jeanne D’Arc, a B class fusion drive fighter carrier designed for autonomous operations in the outer solar system. 
The Jeanne D’Arc carries a complement 63 crewmen servicing four full fighter squadrons and three multi purpose tugs. Each fighter squadron consists of five short range high thrust single pilot space craft equipped with solid fuel missiles and a short range pulse laser.  Squadrons are kept in a regular rotation of four active pilots with one reserve, however full squadrons of five are maintained during crises or in times of war. 
The CSF, or Coalition Space Fleet, is the space based military arm of the United National Coalition, an alliance of national entities consisting of the European Union, Russia, Japan, South Africa, various corporations (most notably West American and New York), and their L5, Martian, and Saturn colonies. At this time the CSF is a distinct and autonomous entity from the mostly planet-based CAF (Coalition Armed Forces) although the two share operations throughout the solar system. 
The UNC has the smallest space fleet of the big three powers, relying on high tech equipment and drone systems to compensate for lower manpower.  The UNC space fleet consists of 8 carrier ships, two dozen fast reconnaissance cruisers and some 50 auxilliary, transport and manned gun ships. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Nexus Ops

I finally got to play Nexus Ops.  This game has a story for me because of how I got it.

Quite a few years ago (like 2006 or something) I was visiting my Mother in North Bay and I popped into the local game store to check out what boardgames they had.  Catan was really hitting it's stride, Fantasy Flight was ramping things up, Hasbro was mining the Avalon Hill catalogue and trying to push a small number of gamer games and Mayfair was rolling out train games and some other stuff, but this was before you saw too too much on the shelves except old stock, Warhammer, and Magic cards.  It was also before I had much in the way of disposable income so I was pretty picky about what I would buy.  I did however go in with the intention of buying something.  I didn't buy Nexus Ops, I picked up Kids of Catan because my kids were tiny and this looked like something we could play.  Wow that was a mistake - Kids of Catan sucked donkey balls.  As for Nexus Ops, I picked up the box and looked it over and thought about buying it, but I didn't.  I found out later that it was actually quite well reviewed and I kicked myself for not grabbing it.  I really wanted a quick light fighting game to pull out and it seemed like a perfect fit.  Problem was that it was out of print now and I couldn't find it anywhere.

Cut away to last year - and I found myself back in that store and looking at that same copy of Nexus Ops.  I think the guy game me 10% off because it was so dusty.  I snatched that puppy up and skipped out of the store.  I read the rules and it sounded cool and I put it on one of the lower shelves and waited for a chance to pull it out.  It's funny because a couple times I have found a copy of a game that was out of print only to find that it was being reprinted - I spent many years looking for SPI DragonQuest, and the minute I found a copy TSR bought it and reprinted it.  Conversely I was ecstatic when Avalon Hill reprinted Machiavelli and the week after I got the reprint, I found a copy of the original at Value Village (it was in excellent shape and $3!).

Well last weekend I finally got to play Nexus Ops and I I have to say I enjoyed it.

You start with 4 corporations (represented as player boards and pieces in different colours) and a modular hex based game board which you build randomly each game.  You also place hidden resource marker on each tile. Each player gets a starting area with some mines on it and some cash (rubium) to buy units.  The mines you control give you more rubium at the end of your turn, but only if you have units working them.  The grunts are cheap (2-3 rubuim) and come in three types, humans, fungoids and crystaloids (or something).  They aren't great at fighting, however they get bonuses in their home terrains, and are the only units that can work mines.  There are also bigger more expensive units like rock striders that can move further over rocks, lava leapers who can jump out of lava pools, and 12 point rubium dragons that have a ranged breath attack and hit on a 2+.  You move out and explore and get more mines.  Combat is interesting because you each type of creature on both sides attack in order (strongest to weakest) and they only attacks once - so your dragons attack and you remove casualties, then the lizards and so on, until you get to the humans.  Humans only hit on a 6 (six sided dice) and it's tempting to take them off as casualties in the early rounds and save your big guys, but then you'd get less rolls later on in the combat round.  There are also energize(?) cards you can play to give combat bonuses or extra combat rounds or otherwise mess with things.  Certainly it's based on random dice rolls but there is some strategy to be had here in addition to the luck.  Also because you only run through the combat sequence once, combats are more persistent and if you didn't wipe out the enemy forces this turn,  players can retreat or reinforce their positions on their turns.

You play to get 12 victory points and you get a point for every combat victory.  You also get victory points for completing secret missions, and so you might enter combat just to kill a couple humans or to win a combat in a lava pit.  This works great and the game doesn't drag on and there are secret motivations in play  aside from simple 'resource holding' to make things interesting.  You might have all the mines to power a vast war machine but if someone tricks you into loosing a rubium dragon so that they can get a 3 victory point secret objective - they can take the game.  Turtling up around your mines is not a wining strategy.

There's also a bug monolith in the centre of the board and whoever holds it gets two energize cards on their turn - which is a nice perk so it's one big king of the hill going on there.

So Nexus Ops is a great game, light but fun, and it has a good story for me too.  I'm glad to see it's being reprinted by Fantasy Flight (although I don't know if they are keeping the dayglo black light-ready colour scheme) and also curious to see if they produce a two player expansion for it.  I think it might remain a good game with more a couple players (although it might drag a bit it seems to be light enough to overcome that problem).

Monday, June 4, 2012

What the hell, why do you keep buying new games?

I like playing board games.

Ok there is more nuance to it than this.  I get a lot of feedback from my family and friends when I either buy a new game or when I try to get people to play a new game.  Mostly it comes from the fact that they can't figure out why I don't just play something they already know how to play.  Why the hell do you keep buying games when we hardly even get to play the ones you already have.

Two reasons:

1. Often the people around the table don't share the same game history so if I trot out something that one person knows how to play the others still don't know how to play it.  With a lot of games I like there is a learning curve and a play time limit that so the game you might love would be a bit of a problem to teach to 3 new players in the time we have.

2. Good gaming is based on the number of players, the length of a game, and the type of game you want to play at that time.  These might not be compatible and you might find yourself with 5 people and a great short war-game that would be perfect, but only supports 4 players.  Or you might find you have a game that is short, supports 5 players and is perfect for your buddies, but has elimination mechanics or is too backstaby to play with your neighbours.

So I'm always looking for a game to fill a specific niche.  And if I have a game that does this well - i'm looking for one that does it better or refines a popular niche to provide more options.  In fact these days where there are so many great looking boardgames getting made, I am primarily buying new games based on niches I want to cover rather than on the merits of the game itself.  I think that Alien Conquest is a great looking game but I have a lot of good fast 4 player games in the abstract category and so I can't quite justify buying it.  I think I would like to incorporate something like this concept into some game reviews.

For example, I love Twilight Imperium.  I love the space theme, the dice based combat and the resource management - but it's too long to play it very often and too heavy a commitment to set up for less than 5 players.   For two people in the same niche I wouldn't hesitate to pull out War of the Ring but it's really only great with two.  If I needed a comparable 5-6 player game to play a shorter time I'd pull out Galactic Emperor.  I don't have anything that really would fit a long heavy game for 3 people which is a shame.  For a short 3-4 player substitute I probably would pull out Nexus Ops - but it's not the perfect fit because it's pretty light, but I can't think or a comparable heavy 3 player game that fits in this niche (with 4 there are lots of 2 sided team options).  As for tone, I would not pull any of these games out if I was playing with the neighbours, and probably also not at a family Christmas game, because they involve some pretty direct conflict.  I would play them with the kids and the uncles, but not the grandmas or aunties.  A less confrontational resource themed game I would pull out in that case would be something like Small World or Endeavour (3-5 players) or Puerto Rico (4-5 players - I wouldn't play with 3).  What would I pull out for 6+ players in this situation?  7 Wonders probably, maybe Imperial if I had a couple players who I figured could deal with the complexity or had played before.  I think I have a gap in the library around a light indirect combat/resource management game for a pile of people - but at that point it's party game time usually anyway.

Anyway there are a pile of examples like this and I think that it would be interesting to document some of my games along this line.  I would have to figure out what the various axis the games fall across are because to be honest right now it's more a gut thing - like choosing where to go for lunch.